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Title: The Correspondence of René Draguet (1896-1980) with Berthold Altaner (1885-1964) and the Debate on the Relation between History and Theology in the Context of the Dogmatic Definition of the Assumption of Mary (1950)
Author(s): DE PRIL, Ward
Journal: Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses
Volume: 86 Issue: 4 Date: 2010
The personal archives of the Louvain professor René Draguet contain a dozen of letters of correspondence with the German patristic scholar Berthold Altaner, dating from the period between November 1947 to April 1951. Their main subject of discussion is theological epistemology and methodology against the background of the dogmatisation of the Assumption of Mary. In view of contextualising the positions of Draguet and Altaner as expressed in their letters, their ideas are first exposed separately on the basis of their most relevant publications. The views of Draguet on demonstration in theology are analysed on the basis of his 1937 article L’évolution des dogmes. With the herein advocated demonstratio ex magisterio, Draguet in some sort laid the theological foundation for the new dogma. Obviously, Altaner’s ideas are discussed on the basis of his series of articles on the Assumption in Theologische Revue. In these controversial articles Altaner asserted that, in the absence of a historical-theological tradition, the revealed character of the doctrine of the Assumption could not be maintained from 'scientific' theology. Next the views of Draguet and Altaner are completed, refined and compared on the basis of their correspondence, showing clearly that, although they agreed on the inadequacy of traditional theological demonstration (probatio ex Scriptura, ex traditione et ex ratione), both scholars evaluated the expediency of a dogmatic definition of the Assumption in opposite ways. To explain this finding, it is suggested that Altaner and Draguet represent two divergent ways of conceiving the relation between history and theology in the post-'modernist' period, both on an epistemological-methodological level (conception of 'scientific' theology) as on a systematic-theological level (conception of Catholic tradition). Whereas for Altaner theology takes its 'scientific' nature from the application of historical or literary critical methods to the documentary evidence or 'historical-theological tradition', Draguet conceived a theory wherein theology derives its scientific nature from its object, the infallibly certain teaching of the magisterium or 'dogmatic tradition'. For Draguet, theology is independent from history, both with regard to its scientific nature and to its object. Theologians in the 1950s tried to integrate history and theology in a more balanced way by emphasising the mutual implication of documentary evidence (Scripture and tradition) and its interpretation by the Church.